Review: Kuwaisiana’s debut album playfully bends the rules

Review: Kuwaisiana’s debut album playfully bends the rules
A heady sense of irreverence hangs over the debut album from Kuwaisiana, a US-based indie outfit led by Kuwaiti singer-songwriter +Aziz. (Photo suppled)
Updated 31 May 2018

Review: Kuwaisiana’s debut album playfully bends the rules

Review: Kuwaisiana’s debut album playfully bends the rules

DENVER: A heady sense of irreverence hangs over the debut album from Kuwaisiana, a US-based indie outfit led by Kuwaiti singer-songwriter +Aziz. The record’s wanton style-hopping and language-swapping has the sense not of willfully breaking the rules, but playfully bending them with a swagger and a smile.
It may be no coincidence the band was born in New Orleans, a notorious cultural melting pot strafing the Mississippi River and sitting at the end of the mythical Highway 61. Drawing fitfully from their surrounds, the septet’s sonics are bolstered by bursts of brass and the lilt of (apparently synthesized) accordion, conjuring a rootsy, Cajun vibe around +Aziz’s raw, DIY-rock approach.
At the best moments, a barn-storming, street-party abandon overcomes these slightly flat, self-produced recordings: The stonking gipsy-punk bedlam of “Gabba Barra” feels oddly reminiscent of Gogol Bordello, while “Nada” is a straight-up ska-punk strut. An irresistible chest-thumping, stop-start chorus lifts the monotonous bass riffing of “Gashxi” from the Louisiana swamps.
But there is a potent spice found amid this audio stew. Split into two “sides” — the first in Arabic, the second English — the lyrics on “Chapter 1” carry subtle weight as a reflection on the modern Arab experience, and potentially have an ambassadorial role to the band’s primarily American market. “My bloody valentine/In love with Palestine,” yells +Aziz over the sleazy funk-rock riffing and Stax-style horn stabs of “The Journalist.” Mingling the personal and political with similar potency, the Caribbean nod of closer “Say Yea” dwells almost comically on the efforts young Muslims face to win the approval of their lovers’ friends and families.
Crossing Muscle Shoals-soul with the inebriated sway of a sea shanty, the slower “Men in Power” serves as a lament of both national pride and patriarchal power, before exploding into a wild, headbanging singalong, complete with a yearningly epic outro of Springsteen-style proportions. And this will prove +Aziz’s greatest gift — the ability to channel his concerns into big, hooky choruses which feel instantly familiar, presenting the modern Arab-American experience with the inclusive theatrics of Middle American stadium rock.

Kuwaisiana's "Chapter 1" is available here

 


Highlights from this year’s Egypt International Art Fair

Highlights from this year’s Egypt International Art Fair
Updated 15 January 2021

Highlights from this year’s Egypt International Art Fair

Highlights from this year’s Egypt International Art Fair
  • Works from 100+ artists from the MENA region will be on show in Cairo from Feb. 12-14

ESRAA ZIDAN

‘Untitled’

This 2020 painting is typical of Zidan’s exuberant, colorful and loving portrayal of the female form (her Master’s degree was on “Human Anatomy for Artists”). The 30-year-old Egyptian artist began depicting plus-size women as a response to the “unrealistic beauty standards” of Instagram, she once told Cairo West magazine. “The most important point is that I portrayed them feeling happy and satisfied. I want every woman to feel accepted and confident about how she looks.” In another interview, with Executive Woman magazine, she said: “We aren’t supposed to look alike. Everyone is different, and every woman is enough the way she is.”

WAEL DARWISH

‘Untitled’

The Cairene multidisciplinary artist has described himself as “much concerned with the changing perceptions and the state of continual metamorphosis that Egypt, as an African, Arab, and Middle Eastern country that was colonized and liberated, has witnessed in the last three decades.” In his paintings, such as this one, he is “obsessed by human movement and the quest for freedom,” and uses bold colors and impressionist techniques to imply that movement.

HAKIM ALAKEL

‘Untitled’

The 55-year-old artist is one of the most significant figures in Yemen’s art scene and his paintings have sold around the world — particularly to fans of Art Nouveau work. His art is inspired by city life in Yemen before the civil war, depicting simple, colorful urban scenes often featuring female residents. “These cities, and their inhabitants, form a primary reference for my work… the clothing, the weather, the nature and the environment,” Alakel is quoted as saying on synkroniciti.com. “You’ll find that Yemeni women actually form the main inspiration for my work. They are unique in their style, their vision, their dress… and there is also a certain kind of silence in their faces. I see these women as symbols of the larger environment in which they live.”

WALID EL-MASRI

‘Peacock’ (series since 2018)

El-Masri is a Lebanese artist who was born in Syria and now lives and works in Paris. According to Ayyam Gallery, his practice “revolves around the repeated examination of a single material subject as he explores variations in depth and space through abstracted compositions. … Like Morandi's vases or Cezanne's apples, El-Masri's depictions are less about the objects themselves and more about the possibility of transformation that is derived from paying close attention to the object over time.” El-Masri explained this practice to the Attasi Foundation. “Every time you repeat a shape, you perceive it in a different way,” he said.

“The Peacock” is a series he has been working on for the past few years, reportedly intended as an homage to his father, who was kidnapped in Syria, after which El-Masri stopped painting for some time. When he started again in 2018, the peacock was the first thing he painted, and he has since completed several works on the same theme.

SALAH EL-MUR

‘Untitled’

Sudanese multidisciplinary artist Salah El-Mur is based in Cairo, but spent many years traveling throughout East Africa and the Middle East. This, according to a statement from the organizers of the Egypt International Art Fair, “has given him a rich and diverse background, while still maintaining a distinctive and peculiar Sudanese identity, to the extent of becoming a (flag bearer for) Sudanese art.” His vivid and colorful paintings of street life “do not (portray) significant events or actions, but characters — each with a concealed story of their own.”

MOHANNAD ORABI

‘Waiting’

This painting comes from the UAE-based Syrian artist’s “Family Portrait” series. His expressionist-style works, according to the fair’s organizers, is based on “the inherent psychology of portraiture in compositions that depict a revolving cast of characters” and was “initially inspired by the confessional elements and sense of freedom in children’s drawings.” But the inspiration for this series came from childhood visits with his family to photographers’ studios. “These psychological portraits capture the fatigue and uncertainty experienced by millions,” Maymanah Farhat, director of art at Ayyam Gallery, told Time Out last year. “They remind viewers that the future of countries such as Syria now rests in the hands of displaced youth; children shaped by the trauma of war.”

AHMED ABDELWAHAB

‘Egyptian Girl’

Abdelwahab is one of Egypt’s most-respected contemporary sculptors. His work is something of an homage to Ancient Egyptian civilization and visual references, and he often uses traditional techniques and materials to create his sculptures. But while he celebrates his country’s heritage, his style is modern — even incorporating Western influences no doubt inspired by his time studying in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, he earned a three-year scholarship in the Rome atelier of the acclaimed Italian sculptor Emilio Greco in the late Sixties.